December 3: Buddha's Old-Fashioned Christmas Special

Later the Barbary Coasters come and sing "I Want A Monkey For Christmas". In a free-from-desire way, of course.

Who knew that Buddhism had a nativity story? Buddhists, that's who, but now me also! Only it turns out Buddha is picky -- he's not going to be born to just anybody:
“The Buddhas,” thought he [that is, pre-pre-natal Buddha -- ed], “are never born into a family of the peasant caste, or of the servile caste; but into one of the warrior caste, or of the Brahman caste, whichever at the time is the higher in public estimation.
How does he know which is higher? Does he do a focus group? In any case, as so often happens, the pregnancy seems to have occurred as a result of a party:
And queen Maha-Maya, abstaining from strong drink, and brilliant with garlands and perfumes, took part in the festivities for the six days previous to the day of full moon. ...And decked in full gala attire, she ate of the choicest food; after which she took the eight vows, and entered her elegantly furnished chamber of state. And lying down on the royal couch, she fell asleep and dreamed the following dream:—
In the dream, Buddha, disguised as a white elephant (Zeus never thought of that one), more or less sets up shop in her womb. Buddha's mom's virginity isn't insisted upon -- she's already married, after all -- but there does seem to be some parthogenesis afoot. It's interesting that these religions want these divine beings to be men, but they don't want them to come from men. My guess is that, in their wisdom, the ancients knew that the average man is most suspicious of 1) women and 2) other men. So a god must thread the needle between the two categories.

And after the deed is done, there are 32 good omens. I won't go into them all, although there seems to be some padding involved, as at least six of the omens could have been condensed into one, flower-related omen. But this is my favorite: "a mild, cool breeze began to blow, very refreshing to men." Thin of an ad for Kool cigarettes back in the day. Compared to other, more showy omens like the blind receiving their sight, a refreshing cool breeze is a nicely subtle accompaniment. Sort of like a chutney-sized miracle.

Moving on -- now, we of the Christian tradition are sadly lacking in details of Mary's delivery, videographers being scarce in the Bethlehem of the time. But that's not true of every religion:
Now other women sometimes fall short of and sometimes run over the term of ten lunar months, and then bring forth either sitting or lying down; but not so the mother of a Future Buddha. She carries the Future Buddha in her womb for just ten months, and then brings forth while standing up. This is a characteristic of the mother of a Future Buddha...

Then she reached out her hand, and seized hold of the branch, and immediately her pains came upon her. Thereupon the people hung a curtain about her, and retired. So her delivery took place while she was standing up, and keeping fast hold of the sal-tree branch.
I'd hate to see the kids have to do that at the Nativity pageant. And, just to tie up the loose ends:
And whereas a womb that has been occupied by a Future Buddha is like the shrine of a temple, and can never be occupied or used again, therefore it was that the mother of the Future Buddha died when he was seven days old, and was reborn in the Tusita heaven.
They got her offstage fast. I guess that's why you don't see statues the Mother of the Future Buddha in sawed-in-half bathtubs.

1 comments:

Lisa Guidarini said...

I'm getting set up to read the 5 feet of books starting in 2009. How cool to find you're already in progress. I'll be lagging behind you at goodness knows what pace, but you're an inspiration to me! My own HC blog is at: http://tickettoharvard.blogspot.com/ but my mail blog is at: http://bluestalking.typepad.com

I'd love to cheer you along as you go, and any help and advice you could give would be great.

Lisa